'What news?': How Higgs found out he won the Nobel Prize for physics

Nobel-winning physicist Peter Higgs holds up a celebratory bottle of London Pride beer at a press conference at the University of Edinburgh on Friday.
Nobel-winning physicist Peter Higgs holds up a celebratory bottle of London Pride beer at a press conference at the University of Edinburgh on Friday.Ian MacNicol / AFP - Getty Images

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LONDON — It took a state-of-the-art accelerator to prove his theories right, but Nobel Prize winner Peter Higgs says he learned of his award in physics the old-fashioned way: Word on the street.

Higgs says he was walking down the street in Edinburgh on Tuesday when a former neighbor got out of her car to congratulate him on the news.

"I said, 'Oh, what news?'" Higgs told reporters on Friday.

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The Nobel couldn't have come as a complete surprise. Higgs was widely tipped to win the prize after his theory about how subatomic particles get their mass was proven right by experiments at CERN, a giant particle accelerator on the Franco-Swiss border.

Higgs, speaking at a press conference in the Scottish capital, stressed that other theorists were also involved in the discovery. He shared the $1.2 million prize with Belgian physicist Francois Englert, the co-author of a different paper about the particle now known as the Higgs boson. Both papers were published in 1964.

The 84-year-old physicist also paid tribute to three other researchers — Gerald Guralnik, Carl Hagen and Tom Kibble — who published yet another paper on the subject just weeks after Higgs did.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences traditionally calls Nobel laureates to let them know about the prize, but couldn't get through to Higgs. The retired Scottish professor doesn't own a computer or a mobile phone.

More about the physics prize:

This report includes additional background from NBC News Digital.